There is a worth-reading piece by the ex-Islamist, Ed Hussein, at CiF, which runs a parallel between Islamism and Zionism. His conclusion will be familiar, to anybody who has read Ed Hussein’s critique of Islamism, and the account of his journey back to a spiritual, personal faith: The Islamist:
“My problem lies with marketing political ideologies as religion. Whether it is evangelical Christianity in the United States and their religious support for rightwing Republicans, or Zionism posing as Judaism, or Islamism masquerading as Islam – all three are equally guilty of misleading people, creating conflicts and corrupting three of the world’s greatest religions.”
It is a parallel which I find quite attractive; although ultimately the similarities are relatively superficial. Read Ed’s piece, and you’ll see what I mean.
The major link between Islamism and Zionism is that both are, in practice, communalist political movements. Zionism and Islamism therefore have tended to recruit through communal structures: both religious and non-religious.
However, there are important differences.
1. Zionism is a nationalism which argues that a jewish national homeland is good for all jews.
Islamism, by contrast, regards an Islamic government is good for everybody in the world.
Zionism is therefore more like – say – Scottish nationalism.
Islamism is more like – say – International Socialism.
2. Zionism is a national liberation struggle, which was fuelled by genocide and persecution.
Islamism is a trans-national movement, which is the the product, chiefly, of a reaction against the failure of an autocratic Arab nationalism.
Ed Hussein believes that Islamism is fuelled by “colonialism”: which may be so to some extent. However, it is principally a reaction to a failed arab nationalism, and emerged directly out of that failure. Even in the West Bank and Gaza – where Islamism is in part a response to Israeli occupation – it presents itself as no more than part of an international Islamic movement, fighting a specific battle against jewish “usurpers”. As is the case elsewhere in the Arab world, Hamas’ main opponents are arab nationalist and other political movements.
Islamism is a post-colonial ideology.
3. Zionism is principally a secular doctrine. Although there are a small minority of religious Zionists, most Zionists regard themselves as supporters of a national liberation movement, and not an attempt to create a kingdom of divine justice on earth. That is why most Zionists have been interested in creating and maintaining a nation state, which is a pluralist democracy.
Islamism is overwhelmingly a religious movement. Although some Islamists have chosen a democratic path to creating an Islamist state, the ultimate goal is the the creation of a system of government in accordance with a particular interpretation of god’s law.
Problems flow from the religious nature of Islamism, chiefly:
– It has a difficulty in recognising the equal status of women;
– It has a difficulty in recognising the equal status of minority groups.
In answer to that, you might say that Zionism tends to give preference to ethnic jews; while Islamism allows people to convert to Islam.
That is all true: which is why Israel should be required to treat all its citizens equally. Any nationalism is unproblematic, if it does so. There are many Zionists who support such a politics.
Similarly, I would have little problem with an Islamism which accorded full equal civil and political rights to women and cultural minorities: not simply in a “separate but equal” manner.
However, I have not come across a variant of Islamism which promotes such an outcome.